Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
One to two class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

For the Classroom


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General Discussion Questions

Lesson Overview

Students will compare the daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe by an unknown photographer with Poe's writings in an effort to discover the character of this mysterious author.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• discuss and analyze the daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe, by an unknown photographer.
• discuss and compare poems by Edgar Allan Poe with his portrait.
• make conclusions about Poe's character based on his portrait, his writing, and the known facts about his life.

Materials

• Reproduction of Edgar Allan Poe by Unknown American Photographer
• Selected poems by Edgar Allan Poe:
   For Annie (1849)
   The Raven (1844, 1845, 1849)
   Lenore (1843, 1849)
   The City by the Sea (1831, 1845)
   The Sleeper (1831, 1845)

Lesson Steps

1. Divide the class into four or five groups.

2. Show the class Edgar Allan Poe by an unknown photographer. In their groups, have them list adjectives that describe Poe's portrait.

3. Give each of the groups one of the following poems by Edgar Allan Poe:
   For Annie (1849)
   The Raven (1844, 1845, 1849)
   Lenore (1843, 1849)
   The City by the Sea (1831, 1845)
   The Sleeper (1831, 1845)

4. After reading their respective poems as a group, have students come up with a list of adjectives that describe the poem.

5. Each group should compare their list and answer the following questions:

  • In what places did the poem match your description of Poe's portrait? In what places did they not match up?
  • When we meet people, we often make judgments about them quickly, often "judging the book by its cover." Do you think Poe's character was easy to read from just examining his portrait?
  • In what ways do you think Poe's character shows through in his writing?

6. Have each group choose a reporter to read their poem and share their lists and answers to the questions with the rest of the class. In what ways were the findings of all the groups consistent? In what ways were they different?

7. Have everyone in the class read a short biography of Edgar Allan Poe's life. Discuss with the students how little we know about Poe's life and how some of the truth about him was altered shortly after his death. How does it affect our modern perception of the author? (You can find a short bio on Poe on the Internet by entering his name in any search engine.)

8. Sum up the lesson by discussing to what degree the students think we can truly read a person just through an examination of their portrait and by examining their work. What can we learn from visual observation? What can be learned from literal observation?

Poe / Unknown
Edgar Allan Poe, Unknown American Photographer, late May to early June 1849

Assessment

Students will be assessed based on their participation in the discussion.

Extensions

Annie, the woman who commissioned this daguerreotype, was Nancy Locke Heywood Richmond. Poe and her closest friends always called her Annie, a name she adopted legally after her husband's death in 1873. In a letter of March 23, 1849, Poe tells Annie Richmond, "I think the lines 'For Annie' (those I now send) much the best I have ever written." Compare the portrait of Poe and the poem For Annie and re-examine Poe's statement made about his portrait that, "My life seems wasted—the future looks a dreary blank." How does Poe communicate some of the same ideas in his poem For Annie? How do the poem, the portrait, and the statement serve to foreshadow future events in Poe's life?

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
Visual Arts Proficient
4.2 Compare the ways in which the meaning of a specific work of art has been affected over time because of changes in interpretation and context.
Visual Arts Advanced
4.3 Analyze and articulate how society influences the interpretation and message of a work of art.

English—Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
3.12 Analyze the way in which a work of literature is related to the themes and issues of its historical period. (Historical approach)